COP28: UAE sets ground for $777 million fund for Neglected Tropical Diseases with $100 million pledge
Dubai: In a historic development at COP28’s Health Day on Sunday in Dubai, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan set the ground for a whopping $777 million fund to fight Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) with a $100 million pledge.
The significant commitment is towards the World Health Organisation’s 2030 roadmap for NTDs. Sheikh Mohamed has commited $100 million to expand the Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) fund targeting 39 African countries endemic to river blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis), along with Yemen, announced Reem Al Hashimy, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation.
The RLM fund was launched in 2017 by Sheikh Mohamed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, On Sunday, Bill Gates announced that his foundation would match the new $100 million fund from Sheikh Mohammed.
“Climate change is inextricably linked to poverty and diseases affecting millions,” said Gates. “That is why funding for lifesaving healthcare is critical and why we’re joining global partners to build on the tremendous progress of the Reaching the Last Mile Fund to date, and accelerate the elimination of LF and river blindness across Africa and beyond.”
NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions that are mainly prevalent in tropical areas, where they affect more than 1 billion people who live in impoverished communities. They are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins.
The RLM fund, successful in eliminating two NTDs, facilitated Nigeria becoming the first African country to end river blindness.
At the 2023 RLM Forum at COP28, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, was joined by world leaders including Samia Suluhu Hassan, President of Tanzania; and Dr. Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone, in a demonstration of endemic country leadership against NTDs. Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman of the Office of Development and Martyrs Families Affairs at the Presidential Court, which oversees Reaching the Last Mile, was also in attendance, alongside ministers and global health leaders.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed stated, “The UAE is proud to host this pivotal conference and expresses gratitude to all those who have seized the opportunity to renew their commitment to end neglected tropical diseases. Today’s demonstration of global solidarity reflects a shared determination to deliver a better and more dignified future for all. Incredible progress over the last two decades has proved that a world free of NTDs is an achievable goal. We warmly thank governments, donors, and partners for standing with us as we strive to achieve it.”
Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed said, “Today we reaffirm our pledge to eliminate these diseases of poverty, and save and improve lives worldwide. Climate change is already affecting the patterns of infectious diseases and risking the tremendous gains countries have made to date.
“With endemic countries leading the way, the Reaching the Last Mile Fund represents a historic opportunity to free communities across Africa from the threat of two NTDs, and in partnership unlock the potential for a healthier world.”
Further contributions from country and donor partners including Sierra Leone, the Carter Centre, Sightsavers, the Children’s Investment Foundation Fund (CIFF), The Helmsley Charitable Trust, the END Fund, and Abu Dhabi National Insurance Company will see RLMF significantly broaden its scope, with the aim of ensuring over 350 million people no longer require treatment for these diseases by 2030.
Over five years, the RLMF has provided over 100 million treatments, trained 1.3 million health workers, and established nine laboratories to support NTD surveillance and testing. The fund also played a critical role in interrupting the transmission of river blindness in Niger, an achievement once thought to be scientifically impossible in Africa, and has supported Senegal in nearing this milestone.
Other major donors
The wider pledging moment saw new, multimillion-dollar commitments made by organisations including the Anesvad Foundation, CIFF, USAID, Global Health EDCTP3, UBS Optimus Foundation, NALA Foundation, Evidence Action, Helen Keller Intl, and the Fred Hollows Foundation, in addition to the governments of Germany and Belgium.
These pledges will help close the funding gap needed to expedite progress towards the WHO roadmap targets which call for at least 100 countries to have eliminated at least one NTD by 2030, and to reduce by 90 percent the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs.
To date, 50 countries have eliminated at least one NTD and 600 million people no longer require treatment. Cases of some diseases that have plagued communities for centuries, such as Guinea worm disease and sleeping sickness, are at an all-time low.
However, climate change is affecting the reach and prevalence of infectious diseases like NTDs, threatening to erase elimination gains and stall future progress. The commitments will help finance essential programs and treatments, support new research and innovations, and strengthen frontline health systems and workforces, among other investments.
WHO welcomes move
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said, "In light of the pledges made today at the 2023 Reaching the Last Mile Forum, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the global community, especially the pivotal leadership role of the United Arab Emirates, led by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This commitment is a significant stride towards eradicating, eliminating, and controlling NTDs, aligning seamlessly with the 2021- 2030 NTD road map. The collaborative efforts of countries and global donors exemplify an unwavering dedication to improving the lives of the 1.6 billion people affected by these diseases. This partnership, especially in the face of challenges posed by climate change, represents a beacon of hope and a testament to what can be achieved through united global action."